Updated 10 June, 2003

Resource Book
Key Documents
Reference Area
The Project
Country Area
About NSSD

International Conventions
Agenda 21 and the Rio Conventions

The importance and value of national strategies for sustainable development run as a strong theme throughout Agenda 21 the action plan of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (held in Rio de Janeiro).

Agenda 21

Convention on Biological Diversity

Convention on Climate Change

Convention to Combat Desertification

Agenda 21 Full Text

Agenda 21: Extracts of particualr relevance to nssds

"Its [Agenda 21's] successful implementation is first and foremost the responsibility of governments. National strategies, plans, policies and processes are crucial in achieving this. International cooperation should support and supplement such national efforts."

Chapter 8

"Governments, in cooperation, where appropriate, with international organizations, should adopt a national strategy for sustainable development based on, inter alia, the implementation of decisions taken at the Conference, particularly in respect of Agenda 21. This strategy should build upon and harmonize the various sectoral economic, social and environmental policies and plans that are operating in the country. The experience gained through existing planning exercises such as national reports for the Conference, national conservation strategies and environment action plans should be fully used and incorporated into a country-driven sustainable development strategy. Its goals should be to ensure socially responsible economic development while protecting the resource base and the environment for the benefit of future generations. It should be developed through the widest possible participation. It should be a thorough assessment of the current situation and initiatives".

A major challenge for National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDSs) is to translate the words and commitments of UNCED into concrete policies and actions that help individual nations embark on paths towards sustainable development, and to stay on course.

Agenda 21 describes an NSDS in which participation is integral, with governments enabling and people managing, as follows:

 "National strategies, plans, policies and processes are crucial in achieving this... The strategy should build upon and harmonize the various sectoral economic, social and environmental policies and plans that are operating in the country... Its goals should be to ensure socially responsible economic development while protecting the resource base and the environment for the benefit of future generations. It should be developed through the widest possible participation".
The need for the "widest possible public participation" is noted in a number of chapters in Agenda 21 (Box 1), although there is very little clarity about how to assure it. But the idea of participation as an "elixir" to revive failed planning approaches has become widespread. The key question is: what forms of participation are appropriate, given the tasks at hand to address the issues facing certain stakeholders ?  Agenda 21 emphasises capacity-building at the community level and empowerment, indicating, for example, that governments
 "should implement programmes with a focus on empowerment of local and community groups by delegating authority, accountability and resources to the most appropriate level".
Such support of a community-driven approach to sustainability by empowering groups should
 "respect cultural integrity and rights, promote grass-roots mechanisms to allow for sharing of experiences, give to communities a large measure of participation in management and protection of resources, and establish networks of community-based learning centres".

Agenda 21 calls for participation effectively in all the elements of a strategy cycle.

Chapter 8 (Integrating environment and development in decision-making), "an adjustment or even a fundamental reshaping of decision-making, in the light of country specific conditions may be necessary if environment and development is to be put at the centre of economic and political decision-making, in effect achieving full integration of these factors".

Chapter 23 (Strengthening the role of the major groups), it requires, in the "specific context of environment and development, the need for new forms of participation" and notes "the need of individuals, groups and organisations to participate in decisions, particularly those which affect the communities in which they live and work".

Chapter 26 (Recognising and strengthening the role of indigenous people and their communities), active participation is called for to incorporate their "values, views and knowledge".

Chapter 33 (Financial resources and mechanisms), "priorities should be established by means that incorporate public participation and community involvement providing equal opportunity for men and women... In this respect, consultative groups and round tables and other nationally-based mechanisms can play a facilitative role".

Chapter 37 (National mechanisms and international cooperation for capacity-building), "as an important aspect of overall planning, each country should seek internal consensus at all levels of society on policies and programmes needed for short- and long-term capacity building to implement its Agenda 21 programme. This consensus should result from a participatory dialogue of relevant interest groups and lead to an identification of skill gaps, institutional capacities and capabilities, technological and scientific requirements and resource needs to enhance environmental knowledge and administration to integrate environment and development".

Agenda 21 includes the following chapters:

1. Preamble


2. International cooperation to accelerate sustainable development in developing countries and related domestic policies
3. Combating poverty
4. Changing consumption patterns
5. Demographic dynamics and sustainability
6. Protecting and promoting human health conditions
7. Promoting sustainable human settlement development
8. Integrating environment and development in decision-making


9. Protection of the atmosphere
10. Integrated approach to the planning and management of land resources
11. Combating deforestation
12. Managing fragile ecosystems: combating desertification and drought
13. Managing fragile ecosystems: sustainable mountain development
14. Promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development
15. Conservation of biological diversity
16. Environmentally sound management of biotechnology
17. Protection of the oceans, all kinds of seas, including enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, and coastal areas and the protection, rational use and development of their living resources
18. Protection of the quality and supply of freshwater resources: application of integrated approaches to the development, management and use of water resources
19. Environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals, including prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products
20. Environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, in hazardous wastes
21. Environmentally sound management of solid wastes and sewage-related issues
22. Safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes


23. Preamble
24. Global action for women towards sustainable and equitable development
25. Children and youth in sustainable development
26. Recognizing and strengthening the role of indigenous people and their communities
27. Strengthening the role of non-governmental organizations: partners for sustainable development
28. Local authorities' initiatives in support of Agenda 21
29. Strengthening the role of workers and their trade unions
30. Strengthening the role of business and industry
31. Scientific and technological community
32. Strengthening the role of farmers


33. Financial resources and mechanisms
34. Transfer of environmentally sound technology, cooperation and capacity-building
35. Science for sustainable development
36. Promoting education, public awareness and training
37. National mechanisms and international cooperation for capacity-building in developing countries
38. International institutional arrangements
39. International legal instruments and mechanisms
40. Information for decision-making
See the Agenda 21 web site: 

Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment. 

Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, 3 to 14 June 1992.



NSSD.net is currently under construction to provide improved service. Please bear with us and check back for updates.


Top of Page

© NSSD 2003  
NSSD.net Home
Top of Page